Friday, December 28, 2012

"The Silver Shawl: A Mrs. Meade Mystery" by Elisabeth Grace Foley (Novelette)

Genre:  Mystery, Historical Fiction

Type of Short Story:  Novelette

Summary: In a small town in turn-of-the-century Colorado, a young woman has disappeared from the boarding-house where she lives. Her distraught fiancĂ© is certain that she must have been kidnapped. But the case takes a new turn when a city detective appears on the scene, looking for a woman who matches the description of the missing girl. Was Charity really kidnapped, or did she have a reason to flee? Mrs. Meade, a gentle but shrewd widow lady who lives across the hall in the boarding-house, feels that there is something wrong with the story of Charity’s disappearance…but can she unravel the mystery before it is too late?


In about the time it takes for a fine horse to travel half a block, Sheriff Andrew Royal was surprised in his office and in the middle of his breakfast by a distraught young man who demanded that Sour Springs be turned upside down and vigorously shaken. Sheriff Royal, once he had got down the half a biscuit with honey which had prevented his interrupting sooner, made routine answer. He told Randall for Pete’s sake to calm down, said that yes, he was aware that Randall didn’t know where Charity was, but it didn’t follow that nobody else did, and reached for his hat to lend some credence to his assurances that yes, he’d ask around if anybody’d seen her. As Randall showed signs of giving vent to a burst of outrage at this innocuous understatement, Royal gave him (in an annoyed voice) a list of very good reasons why harm should not befall a respectable young woman in a town like Sour Springs, then jammed his hat over his bushy eyebrows and stalked out to prove it.

But by midday, a reasoned anxiety was not only possible, but excusable. After questioning her few closer friends or acquaintances provided no clue to her whereabouts, a general alarm was spread that Charity Bradford was missing, and when it had traveled around the town, the result was that no one had seen her that day.

Royal, once roused, though in no better mood, was persistent. His efforts at length turned up two witnesses. One was a small boy who rightly judged that his being an important witness in the case of a missing young lady would render insignificant the fact that he had been sneaking back into the house at a time he was not supposed to be out of it when he saw her. He had seen Miss Bradford walking along the street after dark, but hadn’t gotten close enough to see anything more because he had hidden to avoid her seeing him.

The second witness was an old man, rather shaky to begin with, whose closest friends were rather doubtful about his testimony because they knew he was in the habit of taking a nip of something on chilly evenings. But he was more specific, and more insistent. He had stepped out on his porch for a moment that evening, and had seen a young lady with dark hair walking on the other side of the street. She had on a light dress and a hat and a shimmery shawl of some kind. He was too far away to see her face, but yes, he thought it had been Miss Bradford. She was the right height and she’d been wearing what they said she had on that night. Sheriff Royal repeatedly cross-questioned him as though with a perverse desire to find some flaw in his story, but the old man stubbornly held on to every detail, chilly evening or no. She was wearing a light-colored dress—yes, it might have been green, but he wouldn’t say for sure; his eyes weren’t that good—and a silver shawl. Well, not a silver shawl, he admitted when Royal pounced on him, but a silvery one, or shimmery one—something light like that. That’s what he’d seen and that’s all he could say. No other girl had admitted she was walking up Main Street at that hour, had she? So who else could it be? Royal gave him up in disgust.
Buy this story on Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Friday, December 21, 2012

"River Rat" by Reeve Thomas (Novelette)

Genre:  Young Adult, Paranormal, Romance

Type of Short Story:  Novelette

Summary:  One hundred years ago, a father threw his pregnant daughter from a bridge. The baby swam free of his mother, and the first river rat was born. Most folks in the little river town do not believe in such tales. But to sixteen-year-old Floyd Lebus, it's simply his family history. 

Floyd lives with the entire clan of river rats in a cluster of ramshackle houses on the cliffs overlooking the Kentucky River. The Lebus family is tolerated by the townsfolk, as long as they stick to their own kind.
Mandy O'Dell is not Floyd's kind, but she is drawn to the river and to Floyd that summer. His love for Mandy causes him to test the boundaries of family tradition. Their forbidden union unearths buried secrets, and Mandy may suffer the brutal consequences.


He couldn’t say why he did such a horrible thing; he couldn’t sort it out in his own mind. It was useless to try to explain it. He didn’t intend for things to get so messy that afternoon, with a man shot, and a girl in the river.

It didn’t seem real. Yet, he was there, holding the gun in his hand, watching the girl go over the bridge. She seemed to fall in stop motion animation. The bright colors of her clothing whirled. She became a spinning pinwheel of arms, legs, hair, and screams. Her screams he remembered well. Or was it only a single scream? A bungee cord shriek stretched from the bridge, bouncing off the water. He remembered the water, too, dull and green, and the smell of the river.


A river rat like Floyd Lebus was accustomed to a fishy smell. It was the very smell that seeped from his pores, and caused girls at school to shrivel their noses at him in disgust. Fishy Boy Floyd, they called him. The nickname, like the smell, lingered.

Upon close inspection, Floyd even resembled a fish: glossy, wide-set bug eyes, thin, nearly transparent, slimy lips, ears that stuck out like fins, a green-blue hue to his skin, and patches of scaly, everlasting eczema on his cheeks. Fishy Boy Floyd lived up to his name.

The source of all of Floyd’s trouble was Mandy O’Dell. She was pretty in an unpolished way. At school, she wore her long, wavy, blond hair pulled back, and she dressed modestly. During the summer, she wore paper-thin sun dresses, and let her hair swing loosely down to her waist. Her skin was sun-darkened; her face was dotted with freckles. It was her eyes that first caught Floyd’s attention though—her amber-flecked, green eyes were like the river when the sun hit it.

Buy this story on Amazon and check out Reeve's website.

Friday, December 14, 2012

"The Candy Shop" by V. A. Jeffrey (Short Story)

Genre:  Fantasy

Type of Short Story:  Short Story

Summary:  The curious matter of a gentleman who finds a unique candy shop and falls in love with its mysterious owner.


In the historic district of the city in the very middle of Fiche Lie Vims Street sat a jewel box of a candy shop. It was made of red stone and wood with brilliantly coloured stained glass bay windows filled with images of children and candy canes. It had an oval-shaped, candy-apple red door. The proprietress of the shop was a lady named Miss Pretty-Pretty.

Miss Pretty-Pretty was not particularly tall or short. She had long, red hair crowded in glossy curls like voluminous waves of ribbon candy, pulled back with a golden comb. She had eyes the colour of toffee. Her complexion was bloodless and her smile sweeter than a serenade. Her teeth were perfectly white, hidden behind a small, round, red mouth. She wore dresses that displayed a tiny waist, a figure that was as svelte as a swan's neck except for the bustle in the back and most thought she was the epitome of what a great beauty should be. The fact that she worked in the midst of all and sundry that did absolutely nothing for a lady's waistline made her all the more attractive to me. As well as to quite a few others for she had a fair amount of suitors. Whence she came from no one new nor did I ever ascertain anything about her family and their whereabouts, if she had any. I suppose I should have troubled myself to do so before the incident but there it is. I did not. Miss Pretty-Pretty remained as enigmatic as the candies in her shop.

What I really mean to say is, after the incident there is something that still troubles my mind.

As to the shop's contents, what shall I say? Only that it boasted the most delicious treats to be found anywhere, all made by the proprietress herself. Early each morning one could smell perfumed waves of honey, molasses, caramels, butterscotch and chocolate. They permeated the air of Fiche Lie Vims Street like an invisible fog. And each morning there were to be found rows and rows of a great many jars and trays filled with confections. Chocolate truffles, of course, reigned supreme and came in many flavours: tobacco, mint, cherry, clover, rose, raisin, lavender, gooseberry, maple, blueberry, oregano and sage. There were stands filled with suckers as big as a child's head and some infused with more than just exotic flavours. There were licorice sticks, candy sticks of peppermint, spearmint, lemon, horehound, strawberry, grape, even candy sticks filled with bee pollen. There were peanut butter crisps, brittle brackle, marshmallows, gumdrops and jellybeans of flavours mundane to marvelous. One could not name them all. As the rows went on the candies became more exotic. These were housed in glass terrariums. Vanilla fingers, blinking gumball eyes, elaborate gingerbread and chocolate houses. Zebras made of licorice and white mint, even a chocolate tower of Big Ben and a ribbon candied *Roundabout.

On some days one would have thought that one had stepped into Barnum and Bailey's side-show circus, all the cast in sugary confection and bottled and packaged for one's pleasure. Fridays were those such days. On Fridays there were tours and the shop was filled with gabbling children from the neighborhood school, all wide eyed with wonder. Here was when the magic of the place could really be seen: lollipops as big as your face displaying great works of art that changed scenes of the Madonna to the Mona Lisa to Botticelli's Venus. Candy mosaics of Roman gods and goddesses displayed in red lacquered boxes, gumball planets that revolved around glowing, jawbreaker stars. There were airy cream puffs that floated in their terrariums like delicate clouds, candy dragonflies and butterflies that alighted on the hand or cheek, butterscotch fingers that played on the old, upright piano in the corner, maple Faberge-like eggs with orange or lemon cream filling. Such wonder and amazement. There were even candy foetuses!

“But Miss Pretty-Pretty,” I once cried at my astonishment at seeing the odd little things for the first time, “are those baby-shaped candies or candied babies?” Miss Pretty-Pretty smiled.

“Wouldn't you like to know.” She said in her sweet and lilting voice.

“I would, indeed.”

Buy this story on Amazon or B&N.

Friday, December 7, 2012

"The Scribe (Mindjack Origins)" by Susan Kaye Quinn (Novelette)

Genre:  Young Adult Paranormal, Science Fiction

Type of Short Story:  Novelette

Summary:  Twenty-three-year-old Sasha is in search of a mindjacker Clan that won't force him to use his unique skill--he can't face the prospect of erasing any more souls. A revolutionary Clan leader offers him a chance to serve a higher purpose, but Sasha's wary that it's only a trick to use his ability. When a beautiful female jacker seeks refuge with them, and her former Clan leader wants her special skill back at any cost, Sasha has to decide if there are any causes worth the price of using his ability one more time.


Chapter One

A knife thunked into the dryboard panel I had just installed, piercing the thin board a mere two feet away from me. I reflexively lashed out with my mind toward my attacker only to run smack into the granite that was Anna Navarro’s mindbarrier. I wasn’t the strongest mindjacker around and, as far as I knew, no one could jack into her mind anyway. I’d probably just riled her by trying. She stood stock-still in her sleeveless black shirt and urban camouflage pants, returning my glare from the opposite side of the training area.

I wanted to ask, Are you insane? Instead, I pushed up the long sleeves of my shirt. “That was a perfectly good dryboard panel, you know.”

“Knife training today,” Anna said, ignoring me. “Or would you prefer close combat training again? Your call, Sasha.”

I swallowed. My bruises were still tender from yesterday’s close combat training. I had quickly learned that she had more muscles than I did, even though I was a guy and had done my fair share of manual labor. I worked the pitch-black knife loose from the board, scowling at the gash it left behind and the extra work I would have to do to repair it. Any complaints would be wasted on Anna—she thought I should be training, not fixing up the place. But the half-finished bathroom wouldn’t dryboard itself, and fighting Anna with a blade wasn’t exactly appealing. I walked the knife over and extended it, handle first. If I played it straight, maybe she wouldn’t actually stab me with it.

“I am certain I don’t want to fight you with one of these.”

“It’s not me you have to worry about.” She eyed me, as if she could size up my capability as a fighter by examining my sawdust-covered jeans and workshirt. Or possibly she was measuring me for a coffin. “You never know when a fight will find you, and you may not always have a choice of weapons.”

She pivoted away from me and threw the knife again, sinking it into one of the hundred-year-old oak beams that held up the converted door factory which served as the headquarters for her future mindjacker revolution. Our revolution. I rolled the words around in my head, but they still didn’t feel right. Her twin brother Julian recruited me into his new Clan as soon as I walked in the door, but I kept wondering if I’d made a mistake. Every other Clan had used me for their own purposes, and I wasn’t convinced Julian would be any different. And Anna seemed positive that I didn’t belong here. I couldn’t blame her for being suspicious—I wouldn’t let someone like me into my Clan either.

“If you’re not going to use your true abilities,” she said, “you’re no better than any other jacker. And sometimes you’ll be on the losing end of the jack.”

I shrugged. Little did she know, I’d been waiting for that to happen for a while. I vowed never to use my ability on anyone again, and one day, an angry jacker would put an end to me because of it. Some days I even welcomed the idea.

“Or,” she continued, “you’ll be closely matched. Then your weapons training could mean the difference between walking away or ending up in someone else’s Clan. From what I’ve heard, that hasn’t worked out so well for you in the past.”

Anna pulled another knife from the back of her pants and lunged at me, slicing the air in front of my face. I jerked out of her slashing reach and stumbled into a 55-gallon drum. It tipped, dumping trash we had cleared yesterday: rags clogged with grease, lumber singed by the laser saw, and machine parts eroded by a hundred years of rust.

I recovered my balance and righted the drum. “You don’t know anything about me.” My gaze locked on the knife as she switched hands and circled me. It was only a rubber training blade, probably dull and not life threatening. Still, I didn’t want to finding out how much it would hurt if she stabbed me with it.

“I know enough to see that your fighting skills could use some work.”

“And maybe I wasn’t clear,” I turned with her, keeping my eyes on the rubber blade, “about not opting for knife training.”

“As much as my brother would like to win this war with his words alone,” Anna said, as if I hadn’t spoken, “it’s going to take more than asking nicely to create a future where we can be free.” She lunged, and I landed a solid blow on the wrist of her knife hand, making her drop forward. My other hand swung a punch to her gut. She blocked it and brought the knife around. I pulled back, but its rough tip dragged across my chest. I swiped at her knife hand, getting nothing but air as she danced away from the engagement.

“Don’t lose track of the knife,” she said.

“Well, there’s a handy tip.” I glowered at her, then took a fighting stance as she circled me again.

“If you’re going to be a part of this Clan,” she switched hands and changed her grip, so the knife now pointed down, “you need to contribute something. I assume that you still don’t want to use your real skill.”

“That would be a good assumption.” Other Clans used my ability—to control, to punish, to gain power—always for the greater glory or security of the Clan. There was a time when I didn’t even know there was something wrong with that. When my mentor, Arlis, found me, I was a dazed changeling horrified at permanently erasing my gym teacher’s mind. He took me in, helped me recover, and taught me how to control my ability to erase a person’s mind, down to every last memory and personality quirk, and rewrite them into someone new. It took a long time for me to realize that anyone who plucks a thirteen-year-old boy out of school and turns him into a weapon isn’t a savior, he’s a monster.

“Your brother, Julian,” I said to Anna, “seems to understand that destroying people’s souls isn’t the most righteous way to fight for his cause.”

She flipped the knife up and down, alternating forward and reverse grips. “Just because he won’t force you to use your ability, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use it anyway.”

Her words set my nerves on edge more than the knife. That was the truth that I feared—she and Julian were just waiting for the right moment, the right pressure, to trick or force me into using my ability. I wouldn’t do it, but even thinking about it set off a twitching in my stomach that made it seize up.

She tucked her free hand close, then swiped a back-slashing strike across my neck with the knife. I dodged back, the tip missing by inches, and shot my arm out, knocking the inside of her knife-arm and latching onto her wrist as it swung past. I jerked her arm down and twisted, using her momentum to throw her off balance and trying to break her hold on the knife. As she fell in closer, she hit me clean to my stomach with her free hand, forcing me to double over her and lose all my breath. I twisted harder, and she dropped the knife. I released her and fought for air as I snatched the knife from the floor then scrambled back before she could hit me again.

“Better,” she said, rubbing her wrist.

My lungs sucked in air, but the shakes in my stomach were climbing up my throat. I didn’t want her to see me lose my lunch. I dropped the knife to the floor, where it clattered dully on the oil-stained concrete, and turned away to the bathroom. The door wasn’t installed, but the dryboard gave me a little privacy. I bent over the sink and splashed near-freezing water on my face. The hot water line wasn’t hooked up yet, but the shock of cold successfully quelled the shakes. The mirror reflected back the dripping face of a man ten years older and a lifetime more worn than the thirteen-year-old changeling Arlis had whisked away from school to join his Clan.

Following Arlis had taken me down a path where I had destroyed more souls than I could track. They invaded my sleep, becoming a tangled mess of personalities and histories that nearly drove me mad. I left Arlis behind and worked the handyman trade, but was quickly pulled back into the underground mindjacker Clans. I had sinned so much, what was the point in stopping? There was no redemption for me, no more than it was possible to return the memories and lives I had stolen.

I wanted to believe this Clan with Julian would be different. He was practically bursting with hope for the future. Maybe I could help him deliver on that promise of hope for others, even if there wasn’t any left for me. Perhaps then there would still be a reason for me to exist.

I looked away from the dark, soulless eyes in the mirror, not sure who was I kidding.

I heard Anna scuff the concrete outside the threshold. I swung blindly, missed, and then caught her by the throat with my other hand, shoving her up against the half-constructed wall. I held off on the punch that was about to follow, partly because I didn’t want to put her through the dryboard I had just finished putting up, and partly because she had a crazy sort of grin above my hand clenched around her throat.

Heat rose up my neck and I dropped my hand. “Sorry, I thought you were…”

“I wasn’t,” she said, her eyes lit up. “But maybe I should have been.”

I rubbed the back of my neck, having a hard time meeting her eyes.

“Julian wants you up front,” she said.

“I need to finish work on the bathroom.”

“He has a new recruit coming,” she said. “He wants you to be there.”

I eyed her. “Why?”

She tapped her fingers against the wooden frame I’d put up for the door, avoiding my gaze. “You know he can’t jack, right?”

I narrowed my eyes. I’d seen Julian subdue a jacker from my old Clan that no one else could stop. And he had asked me to jack into his head, just to show me that it couldn’t be done. Jacking Julian wasn’t the normal mental wrestling that one mindjacker did with another, each fighting for control of the other’s mind. When I mentally reached out to push into Julian’s head, all of my nightmares raged out from the depths of my mind, tipping me toward the madness that made me leave Arlis in the first place.

I would never try that again.

“What do you mean, he can’t jack?” I asked. “Julian’s some kind of extreme jacker, like the rest of us. You with your hard head, me with my ability. I don’t understand exactly what he does, but it trumps jacking by a long shot.”

She dropped her hand from the door and looked me in the eyes. “Julian can manipulate your instincts, but he can’t jack you directly. That means anyone he can handle will be easy for him to control, but if he can’t reach their instincts, for whatever reason, he’s virtually powerless.”

“He’s not exactly defenseless,” I countered, a chill running through me.

“Agreed,” she said. “And I thought he could handle anyone, anytime. I never worried about him, until…”

“Until Serena came along,” I finished.

Anna’s jaw worked, the angles of her face flexing under her brown skin. “Look, I don’t know who these recruits are that he’s bringing in, and neither does he. Julian’s far too trusting. Until we know better, we have to assume that every one of them could be another Serena, or even worse.” She had the same brilliant blue eyes as Julian. They both could burn you with a look—his eyes blazing with hope, hers with something more raw. Anger? Hatred? She was legitimately dangerous, yet here she was, frowning with worry about her brother. It almost made her seem human.

“I get it,” I said. “You want to make sure someone’s there who can protect him, in case things go south again.”

“Exactly,” she said. “And I’ve been banished from the new recruit interviews.” She clenched a fist and pressed it against my fresh dryboard. I hoped she wouldn’t put a hole through it.

“I can’t imagine why that is.” I struggled not to laugh in her face. She might have another knife tucked in her pants.

She didn’t take my bait. “Sasha, I need to know.” She laid her palm flat on the wall and leaned closer to me. A reflexive sense of self-preservation made me rock back against the sink. “If it came down to it, and you had to use your ability to protect Julian, would you do it?”

“He said I wouldn’t have to…”

She waved away my protest. “I’m asking you—would you do it? To save him? Because he’s key to everything, the revolution, all of it.”

“I thought you said your cause wouldn’t be won with his words.” I couldn’t help but grin.

“Not on his words alone.” She narrowed her eyes. “Would you be thinking you could have a chance at a new life, if he hadn’t convinced you it was possible? Would you have even tried to come to us, if you hadn’t heard about how different he is?”

Well, she was right about that. Julian could sell ice cream to an Eskimo; or in my case, salvation to a hopelessly lost sinner. Charismatic didn’t touch it. His hope was an infectious disease that had infiltrated my mind.

“No, I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for him,” I said. “And I appreciate that he’s willing to take a chance on me. But I’m not going to use my ability on anyone. Ever again. No matter what.” She didn’t know what she was asking, and she didn’t need to know. My victims lived and breathed, but they were hollow copies, empty of the uniqueness they were born with. The simple truth was that I’d rather have my pitiful life end now than destroy another soul. And I couldn’t chance bringing on the nightmares again. They would only carry me off into madness, and who knew what kind of harm I could do then.

She gave a tight nod. That obviously wasn’t the answer she wanted. “I’ll be watching the new recruit from back in the racks. I’ll be nearby, within jacking range, if there’s trouble.”

She pulled a knife, sheathed in a strap-on case, out of a pocket in the leg of her pants and handed it to me. “You know where the guns are,” she said, referring to the ancient wooden cabinets up front in the kitchen area where she kept her arsenal. “Make sure you’re armed before she gets here.”

I took the knife, not sure I would know what to do with it, and even less sure that weapons would make a difference. I strapped it under my pant leg anyway.

Julian’s first recruit, Serena, nearly killed us all before Julian stopped her. She had already wiped out my old Clan, setting one member against the rest, until he killed everyone but me. I only escaped because I managed to steal his soul first. If this new recruit was like Serena, Julian might be able to stop her too. If Julian couldn’t control her, then Anna’s weapons would be all we had.

Because using my ability wasn’t an option I was willing to consider anymore.
Buy this story on Amazon and check out Susan's website for series information.

Friday, November 30, 2012

"Necessary Evil" by Tina Starr (Short Stories)

Genre:  Horror

Type of Short Story:  Short Story Collection

Summary:  Necessary Evil contains the terrifying "Oded the Merciless" (previously published in audio format at Pseudopod) and more dark fiction. Six horror stories, 22,000 words total:

Oded the Merciless
A relentless computer AI on a spaceship torments a woman to discover the nature of the human condition.

To Feed the Hungry
A lesson in be careful what you wish for.

Nature Boy
An angry young man is offered his heart's desire, but only if he can believe in magic.

Cold Comfort
An elderly woman is hiding something far worse than her menagerie of cats.

Red Tide
Bad things happen when a vampire bites a dolphin.

Necessary Evil
A real estate agent on Mars struggles with an ethical quandary when she tries to sell a house. 


“Meluna, you are beautiful.”

The electronic voice penetrated her from all directions, unwelcome.

Meluna hurled the instruction manual she was trying to read at the nearest recessed speaker. It bounced off. The information and the book itself, both useless. The control room could sustain more damage than she had the ability to inflict.

Her thoughts returned to her predicament, circled it.

The voice jarred her again.

“Meluna. Your scars are not unattractive. Your missing ears are no detraction from your beauty. Your sunken left cheekbone allows an aesthetic break from symmetry as does your partially amputated nose. Your lips have been sewn into small grooves and peaks that provide sensual variety in color and texture. Your body…”

“Shut up!” She put her hands over the holes where her ears had been. The movement made her tilt, off balance. She collapsed with a moan. The voice coming from everywhere like a god’s voice, saying such things to her. Obscene.

If there was a god, he’d abandoned her months ago.

She blinked up at the glare from bare white walls and bright metal. The control room looked so different from the labyrinthine hallways with their utilitarian grated gray floors and ceilings. Different, too, from the fourteen small bedrooms each painted a cheerful primary color. Candy colors. Melts in your mouth not in your hands.

Oded’s seat of power was a sterile white womb.

Her fellow-travelers, the twelve women Ulrich had abducted, were dead. Naked sculptures of his work in cold storage, most skulls like empty oyster shells, others new-cracked.

Buy this collection on Amazon or Smashwords.

Friday, November 23, 2012

"Flight of the Sugar Fairy" by Hudson Owen (Short Story)

Genre:  Children's Story

Type of Short Story:  Short Story

Summary:  Young Meredith looks out her window one day and sees white stuff coming from the sky. It can’t be snow; it’s July! She goes off in search of the source of the white stuff and finds that it’s causing all kinds of problems: on the road, where it melts and causes an accident, on the golf course, where the golfer cannot find his ball. Meredith tastes the stuff and finds that it is sugar! Meredith, a diabetic, tracks down the source to the Sugar Fairy, who bakes for the town, and can’t seem to get enough of a good thing.


The Sugar Fairy stepped outside the kitchen and saw what a truly glorious day it was. Birds were singing in the trees and fluffy white clouds were floating across the brilliant blue sky.

"Sugar is such a treat it shouldn't be confined to the kitchen," she said aloud to Percy the Cat, who was rubbing against her leg. "I think I'll go for a ride."

Percy gave her a look, which she understood immediately.

"Well then, who will mind the kitchen?" she asked.

Percy looked around and saw no one.

So, the Sugar Fairy ran upstairs and put on her flying outfit... and took a large sack of sugar from the pantry...and her special silver scoop...and loaded the sack into her funky old-fashioned airplane.

She pressed the start button and the engine roared into life. Soon the propeller began to hum like a fan on a hot summer day, which it was. And she took off through the field in back of her house.

Up...up...up she soared, so that Percy the Cat grew smaller...and smaller... and smaller, until he appeared no larger than a ladybug. Then he could not be seen at all!

She flew up high into the sky...and then she swooped down

low over the town where everyone ate the cookies, cakes, sauces, and all the other delicious foods she made.

She reached into the back of the plane and opened the sack and filled the silver scoop with sugar.

"Every day is dessert day!" she proclaimed as she poured sugar from the plane.

Lots and lots of sugar.

Buy this story on Amazon.  Be sure to check out Hudson's blog!

Friday, November 16, 2012

""The Underrails #1" by Etherer Daz (Novella)

Genre:  Fantasy-adventure, New Adult, Speculative, Fiction

Type of Short Story:  Novella

Summary:  When two nomads (interworlders) open the green portal, they don't expect the acceleration of their 'talents' or the portal breach that let's a few unauthorized friends into the world. The adventure that lies ahead calls for some unusual maneuvering. Fortunately, Zya lives for this sort of thing, and the new nomad in her life provides just enough skill and mystery to keep her on her toes.


Nights without port work were growing more common than Zya cared to think about, but she utilized the Daily Cup, “researching” to keep herself busy. Not terribly exciting but useful; she guessed - even if the monotony of text in front of her made her eyelids heavy. She'd been at it for hours, and even the simplest of off-port retrieval orders would have been preferable to a night of seemingly endless text-tracing. But, no one was calling this week, and she'd have to get over that. Zya rubbed her temples, and let her eyes slip closed a second.

She saw him when she opened them and scanned the space. Another nomad. She hadn't noticed him enter the coffeeshop, but Zya could feel the vibrations of his portkey. He was probably headed for the port at the back of the cafe. Not that he'd get far with the current guard on duty. Taking a slow sip of her latte, Zya eyed him. He was new. Definitely not an easy read, either. She wondered what he was there for. Averting her eyes when he glanced up from the paper he was reading, she lifted the wide-mouthed mug in her hands to her lips and swallowed a substantial amount of gingerbread java.

It was always so cold in the coffee shop despite the heat Eliza paid a third of her profits for. A regular flow of discs was probably the reason the Watch placed a cafe in that quarter. Fuel and water fees keeping their governing devices afloat and all. Steady income keeps the machine running.

The other nomad was watching her now. Zya frowned at her foolishness, feeling his lingering gaze. She'd been too bold. Hopefully, she hadn't raised too much suspicion. But, she was sure she had. Sipping the last of her coffee, she folded closed the book of old reports and returned them to her pack, making to leave. The nomad caught up with her when she reached the door.

“See all you needed to see?” he asked, a searching curiosity glinting the chocolate brown lenses of his eyes.

“I just came for the coffee.”

“I felt you scanning me.”

“It's not like that.”

“What's it like? You're obviously nomadic. Carrying an illegal key, too? Does the owner know there's a dimensional door here?”

Zya's eyes narrowed.


The nomad looked her over, relaxing a little.

“We should have a talk. Elsewhere.”

“Sounds great, except for the fact that I don't know you.”

His gaze was insistent. “It might benefit your port access.”

Zya looked him over, her mouth flattening into a grim line, then gestured to him with her free hand to “lead the way.”

The nomad stole a glance at Zya several paces from the coffee shop. She didn't try to run. He'd spotted her fair and square, and if he'd wanted to turn her in for key fraud, he could have directed gate patrols to the coffee shop's video discs.

“How many gates do you know about?” He asked her, maintaining a brisk pace, eyes focused straight ahead of him.

“Where are we going?”

“I asked you a question,” he noted with a more conversational tone, completely ignoring her own inquiry.

“I know of a few. That one's the real hot bed though. It opens to a lot of scenic vacation spots. People pay a pretty penny for dimensional escorts these days.”

“That's not what you do.”

“Oh no?”

“No. I see the oath tattoos on your neck and peeking out from your sleeve. You're probably covered in them. I wouldn't doubt you have a load of protective metal rings as well.”

“You're quite the observer.”

“I have to be.”

The nomad reached an arm out to gesture her left to a building tucked into the heart of the fashion district. Zya raised a brow when he reached into his pocket and pulled out the key that unlocked the door. In seconds, he waved her through. Hesitating a moment, Zya stepped over the threshold and glanced back at the other porter. A chill went through her watching him bolt several locks and secure one with another key, effectively locking them in.

“Follow me,” he said, crossing the room and pulling open a door that led to the basement level of the building.

Zya did as he asked with the hint of a scowl.

They descended a very long set of stairs that wound down to a room with several antique typewriters at the bases of small, ornate screens. Zya suppressed the urge to ask what all of it was, but her curiosity burned. She was horrible at waiting. It would be nice if the traveler would get on with whatever he was working up to.

“Have a seat,” he told her when they'd reached the platform at the bottom of the stairwell. He motioned a hand toward a spindly stick-legged chair with a flat top by one of the typewriters and monitors.

Frown deepening, Zya did as he asked.

“Don't look so angry,” he told her, failing to lighten the mood.

“Who are you exactly?” Zya asked.

“Someone who needs to find something.”

“Thank you for the clarifier,” Zya uttered, shaking her head.

“I'm a kind of guard.”

Zya frowned.

“Not the kind you have in mind.”

“Then why am I here?”

“I happened upon something that I need another expert's perspective on before I leave Loreport. A box with inscriptions on it. It's not run of the mill code. It's more like an imprint. It looks like... It's better I show you. But, I need assurance you won't speak of it to anyone until I'm sure of what it is. And, even then...”

“I won't.” Zya agreed, meeting his eyes and leaning forward.

“I apologize for my lack of manners. My name is Akir.”


“A pleasure,” he said.

Looking her over, the nomad lowered his eyes to a drawer built into the wall nearest him. Rising from the stick chair, he made his way to it and rolled the lock's knob in the direction of an apparently secret letter combination (too quickly for Zya to memorize). The box he pulled from it was smaller than she expected and looked more like a stone than a manufactured container. He placed the stone box on a stand toward the end of the room and gestured her over. Zya rose and walked toward it at a cat-like, leisurely pace, tucking the thin twists falling from her upsweep behind her ear.

“That's the imprint.”

Zya squinted her eyes and leaned forward to inspect the code. Her eyes quickly narrowed. She turned to him with disbelief.

“Seriously? You could have just asked for my number.”

“You can't think I manufactured that inscription. I didn't engrave this relic and 'age' it to pursue you.”

Zya raised a brow.

“You see the imprint just as clearly as I do. It's ancient.”

“And, if it opens up a portal? Should we skip through it together?”

Zya grinned.

“I asked you here because of your fire. I was watching you just as much as you were watching me at that coffee shop. I know what I saw.”

Rolling her eyes, Zya extended her hand, trying to ignore the charge that shot through it when Akir's hand closed around it. Glancing at the imprint on the box, Akir stepped closer to her until their arms formed a sharp V, making a disjointed version of the letter H with their bodies. His eyes met hers then, but whatever attempted to linger between them was interrupted by the beam of green light that shot abruptly from the box. The pair watched it in amazement as it nearly widened enough to permit one person through it. It was definitely a portal. Zya's eyes glinted. She could make out the outline of buildings in the distance.

Check the story out on R.A. Library and Amazon.

Friday, November 9, 2012

"On the Clock in Vegas" by Brian Bergquist (Short Story)

Genre:  Noir Thriller

Type of Short Story:  Short Story

Summary:  Professional gambler Benny Delgano is in Las Vegas to compete in a high stakes fantasy football tournament for one hundred thousand dollars, only to run into a demented criminal from his past with revenge on his mind. 

Forced into colluding with Tommy the Wolf at the fantasy football draft in order to spare his friend’s life, Benny finds out the stakes were higher than he originally thought.
A short story about fantasy football, crime and friendship, On the Clock in Vegas will grip you from the beginning to its fast paced ending.


My pick was coming up and when I made it, I was afraid Mikey would soon be dead.

Guys all around me were studying their fantasy football magazines and cheat sheets like they were some kind of mutual fund prospectus, which in a way, they were.

Some stared at laptops, using software to make the draft more organized and their picks easier, sucking down beers to ease their nerves.

I guarantee their next pick wasn’t as hard as the one I was about to make.

Tommy the Wolf sat next to the empty seat on my right, where my partner should have been. With his slicked back gray hair and puncher’s nose, Tommy grinned as he held up his drink to me. “To you, my friend,” he said. “Don’t worry about Mikey. He’ll be just fine.”

I nodded, swallowed hard, and went back to my cheat sheet. Trying to study the players who might still be available with the last pick in the first round, all I could think about was Mikey and if he would be alright.

Tommy picked right before us at the turn and had a plan. As any good fantasy player will tell you, you don’t go into a draft without one, and one part of Tommy’s was to have me pass on the players he liked. Or else.

In fantasy balling, you need some good luck while avoiding too much bad luck. All kinds of shit could go wrong. But the way Tommy saw it, at least he was giving himself a better chance, like the kid who always cheated at checkers.

But there was one big problem. We wanted that hundred grand too. Tommy made his pick at number eleven. He looked over at me and winked. The next two picks were mine.

“Roid Rage is on the clock!” the draft commissioner’s voice echoed in my ears, my heart thumping like a base drum. I had two minutes to make my pick. One hundred twenty seconds to decide the fate of our team. Or possibly the fate of my friend.

My name is Benny Delgano and I was on the clock in Vegas.

Buy this story on Amazon.

Friday, November 2, 2012

"Lancashire Hot Pot Loves Welsh Rarebit" by Ryan Thomas (Short Story)

Genre:  Adult Humor

Type of Short Story:  Short Story

Summary:  Jake Tempest, an unknown and slightly unhinged indie author with an unhealthy passion for military weapons and a tenuous grip on reality falls for up-and-coming Welsh writer Morwenna Midnight when they meet via an online writers' forum.

Fantasy turns to obsession when he sees the garden gnome on the cover of her soon-to-be-published novel as his only rival for her affections. Throw in a cruise missile, a handful of clay sheep, long-distance-lust, and things can only go one way - completely tits-up.


Telephone conversation #2:

"Hi Doll."

"Err, Jake?"

"I just thought I'd call you for a chat."


"I'm busy working on 'Ruminants and Rubber Gear', is this important?"

"No, not really."


"Is that your phone making that beeping noise?"

No, it's my virtual pet."

Your virtual what?


"My virtual pet, it needs feeding, hence the beeps."

"Where is it?"

"It's on a key ring thingy that hangs from a belt loop on my jeans."


"And when did you last feed it?"

"About seventeen hours ago."

"Seventeen hours? That seems like a long time."

"Yeah, in twelve minutes it will croak."


"What type of pet is it?"

"Hard to say really."


"It's kind of a cross between an aardvark and a praying mantis."

Beep, beep.

"So it's a praying vark?"

"Not really, more of an aardantis."

"I should have known. What does it eat?"

"Hard to say really."


Beep, beep.

"Well the display is only about forty millimetres across and the image is kinda pixelated but with my reading glasses on its food looks like a cross between a human testicle and a wing nut."

"That doesn't sound very nutritious."

"I think I've seen them in my local deli."

Beep, beep, beep.

Jake, how long before it croaks?"

"I'd say less than five minutes."

"And are you going to feed it?"

"I can feel my paternal instincts kicking in, so I probably will."

Beep, beep, beep.

"Does it normally take seventeen hours for your paternal instincts to kick in?"

"It varies, I'm not really a natural father."

"Quite. How long now?"

"About three minutes - ish."

Beep, beep, beep, beep.

"Jake, I'm hanging up, feed that bloody thing now."

Morwenna puts the receiver down. She rests her face in the palms of her hands and considers that if Jake was her virtual pet she would do the humane thing - and let him starve to death.

Buy this story on Amazon US or Amazon UK.

Friday, October 26, 2012

"The Forever Contract" by Avery Sawyer (Novella)

Genre:  Young Adult Dystopian

Type of Short Story:  Novella

Summary:  In the very near future, the country is plunged into drought and unrest. Scare resources and constant heat are making life completely miserable. Casey doesn't think she can stand slugging back another gel pack or working one more shift at the wells. Fortunately, there's a solution: anyone over the age of seventeen can sign the Forever Contract and enter a utopian paradise. While people's minds take a permanent vacation, their bodies get warehoused and hooked up to a complex array of sensors and feeding tubes. As Casey's brother says, "You upload your consciousness to the system and you're free to live as long as you want, however you want. No more pain, no more heat, no more awful dust, no more work. Just pure thought. It's what our species has always been meant for. Suffering is for philosophers. Not for me."

Casey's ready to sign--a permanent vacation is just what she needs. There's only one problem: her boyfriend James doesn't trust it.

Told from his and her perspectives, The Forever Contract is a 17,000 word (60 page) novella suitable for readers in grade 8 and above.

Would you sign the contract?


All anyone ever talked about these days was going into the system. Most of us turned seventeen this year, and you couldn’t go in until your seventeenth birthday.

“But what will it feel like?” we asked each other in class, when we were supposed to be writing lab reports or graphing equations. “What if it hurts?”

“It doesn’t hurt,” the decided ones said. “My best friend Shana went in last month and I chat with her every night. She says it’s amazing—you get to do whatever you want.”

“That does sound pretty decent,” the doubtful replied, throwing back a gel pack. We all had gel packs for lunch; water was scarce and the gel was supposed to rehydrate you even though it never felt like it did.

There had been a drought and record high temperatures all over the country as long as anyone could remember. We lived with the constant whirr of weak air-conditioners and uncertainty in our small prairie town. A long time ago, the town boomed thanks to large deposits of natural gas, but that was all over now. Most people had left, but a few thousand hunkered down and built concrete block houses. It wasn’t quite as hot in the summer here as it was farther south, so we figured it could be worse. No one had seen green grass in years; everything was dirt and dust and dead trees. It was actually illegal to plant your own garden because everyone knew you’d try to water it in the middle of the night when no one was looking. I kept planning to cut my longish brown hair into a pixie to make one-minute showers easier to manage, but I just couldn’t do it.

My brother Benjamin had gone in a year ago. Our parents were upset—they didn’t believe it was a good idea, because once you went in, you couldn’t come back out. “But I’ll never be able to give you a hug again,” my mother had wailed. “It’s not normal.”

“We’ll talk every day on screen,” Ben had replied. “And you can join me any time and give me a hug inside.”

“I doubt two avatars hugging really feel anything,” Mom had said ruefully. “It’s all made up. A fake world, a theme park, a game.”

“No, it’s not, Mom,” Ben had insisted. “It’s whatever you want it to be. Don’t you ever get tired of being thirsty? Of feeling pain?” He knew she’d suffered from arthritis for years. He wanted to sell us all on the idea, on the plan, but I knew my parents would never go in without me, and I wasn’t old enough then.

“Please don’t do it. I don’t trust it,” she’d begged.

“The system isn’t some monolithic thing, you know,” he’d tried to explain. “It’s the first true democracy. You upload your consciousness to the forever system and you’re free to live as long as you want, however you want. No more pain, no more heat, no more awful dust, no more work. Just pure thought. It’s what our species has always been meant for. Suffering is for philosophers. Not for me.”

“You’re free to live and play as long as the system has power,” our father corrected him. “What happens if the grid goes down?”

“Won’t happen, Dad. Why are you so negative?”

Our parents were still part of the faction who believed it would get better in the nuts-and-bolts world. That the rain would come back, that the changes we were seeing around the globe were temporary. They were different than most parents in our town. Most parents felt that anything was better than life as we all knew it. As a result, there were almost no young adults around anymore. It seemed like everyone seventeen or older had gone in. You almost never saw a twenty-something at the supply store or the school. Older people could go in if they wanted to, but they were more reluctant. They weren’t completely comfortable with the technology—they wanted to give it a few more years.

Things had gotten worse gradually. My mom talked about citrus all the time. That’s the thing she missed, she said. Grapefruit. A slice of lime in soda water. We couldn’t get citrus fruit anymore, and I couldn’t even remember what it had tasted like. She said I’d loved oranges as a toddler. We were the lucky ones, though. A lot of families didn’t have enough to eat. Food was very expensive, so meals were skipped. People ate rice and beans. It was awful. We at least had meat once or twice a week.

In any case, Ben had signed the Forever Contract and went in, and like my mom said, we couldn’t hug him anymore. His avatar looked like him, only better somehow. His hair seemed thicker onscreen; his arms and body leaner and more muscular. I wanted to ask him if he’d done it with anyone in there, but I couldn’t. I was his sister, and little sisters didn’t ask big brothers that sort of thing. Besides, I could read about it anywhere. Every report coming out of the system said sex inside was amazing. Indescribable. Much better than it could ever be in real life—with no worries about pregnancy or diseases. The system didn’t have babies, which sounded perfectly fine to me.

Still, I wasn’t sure. My boyfriend James was a really good kisser and I couldn’t imagine doing anything that would prevent me from being in his arms. When his lips touched that spot on my neck, right below my ear, I felt more alive than I ever had. How could immortality and nice muscles compete with that?

Besides, James wasn’t going.

He said it was a crock, the whole thing. I never let him get very far with his argument because I didn’t want to think about what it meant for Ben, but James believed the system was a completely flawed corporate-government program designed to prevent even worse food and water shortages. He believed that those who uploaded their consciousness in exchange for life as avatars in utopia had essentially agreed to commit suicide.

Buy this story on Amazon or B&N.

Friday, October 19, 2012

"Broken Vacuum Cleaner & MacKillop Series 2 Episode IV: Yuckahula" by Steve Whitmore (Short Story)

Genre:  Science Fiction, Fantasy

Type of Short Story:  Short Story

Summary:  The universe’s greatest ever investigative duo uncovers a plot to destabilise the Cosmos in a run-down London convenience store. As booze-crazed alien slugs unleash unspeakable horror and terror, only a combination of MacKillop’s able brain and Broken Vacuum Cleaner’s array of cleaning attachments can hope to save the day.

This is the first story in the BVC & MacKillop series. Genre aficionados may appreciate its blend of fantasy, sci-fi and humour — not to mention a fascination with defunct household gadgetry of a sucky nature.


MacKillop’s eyes snapped tight shut. Materializations were always unpleasant, especially those dishing him up to a Tuesday, which this quite clearly was. His skin stung like it had been grated; he felt sick — a horrible sickness, an uncontrollable urge toretchretchretch. But as ever, the foggy magenta visuals were the worst of it. The limbo between dimensions as one panorama morphed into another was no place for reconstituted mortals, let alone their spasmodically jettisoned stomach contents.

Broken Vacuum Cleaner sang to him from the canvas MYSTERIE’s knapsack slung over his back — random crooning that didn’t help at all. He turned to clock his cylinder accomplice’s shiny yellow carapace in the corner of his eye. “Shut up,” he said, with a female growl, “or I’ll throw up into your dust bag.”

Buy this story on Amazon.  Be sure to check out Steve's blog!

Friday, October 12, 2012

"The Magic Particle" by TJ Hudson (Short Story)

Genre:  Fantasy

Type of Short Story:  Short Story

Summary:  It is 2012, and humanity believe they may have finally found the Higgs Boson. Little do they know that not only have they discovered the origin of mass in the universe, but also the source of magic; The Magic Particle.

A group of magical beings are called to attend a rare Grand Summit, where they must discuss the new discovery's impact on the magical world. Then they must decide the future of the entire planet.

A fantasy with a friendly dose of science.

This book is in British English.


The worldwide news story called for a special event, an incredibly rare special event. A Grand Summit would be called, and a representative of every magical council, organisation, sect, cult, nation or combination of the previously mentioned were required to attend. If you were called, attendance was compulsory. However, this time this particular rule did not have to be enforced, everybody called for wanted to be present.

The selection of the venue was a daunting task, it had to have the required gravitas for such an event, but no superfluous over the top pomposity. This was not a state occasion, a coronation or any other form of ceremonial event; it was a meeting, a meeting of the so-called wise and powerful, who had to make some very important decisions. Then agree on them.

The venue had to be on as neutral territory as possible, at a convenient place and at a convenient time. Due to the urgency of the meeting this was far harder than it should have been. The venue would also have to cater to the needs of each representative, as if the existing requirements were not already enough.

The mysterious Stewards of the Grand Summit outdid themselves, they always did, even with time so constrained. There was a reason they had earned their titles, that, and managing to stay completely neutral in all magical matters; just how did they do that?

And so it was chosen, the most prestigious venue for the 156th Grand Summit of the Magical World (an event that had not occurred since 1945) would take place at The Golden Dragon Pub, out in the Wiltshire countryside on a typically British rainy summer's evening.

There were seven beings present. Beings, not people, as the magical world has sentient creatures beyond humans. The number for a Grand Summit had never been set at seven, but since time immemorial (or time as far back as anyone can remember, or as far as records went - having the occasional immortal around blurred these lines) there had always been seven present. As they were all of the magical persuasion, (some literally existing more in other worlds, realms and dimensions than our material world) they tended to take their superstitions a bit more seriously than those of us in normal, non-magical, society. That even includes the astrologists and homeopaths amongst us. Due to this, the number of attendants became unofficially/officially fixed at seven and no one wanted to take responsibility for any potential consequences of breaking with tradition.

The news story that had driven this meeting into existence was reported everywhere in normal and magical society alike. It was not about a war, or terrorist attack or natural disaster and it was not about a wedding, a birth or a world record being broken. Instead it was of a scientific nature, a new particle had been discovered, the scientific community at the Large Hadron Collider tentatively announcing it as the famous and very elusive Higgs Boson; the particle that proves the existence of the Higgs field which in turn gives mass to everything in the universe, so quite important then. 

The discovery of this particle was remarkable enough in the normal world, it had been theorised for many years, providing the final piece of the puzzle to the Standard Model of particle physics. If this final piece was found then it would indicate to humanity to concentrate on this theory and discover even more fundamental and new physics. The Standard Model however, was not the only theory to the building blocks of the universe, there were many others, all taken with varying degrees of seriousness. 

The discovery of this new particle prompted further debate about these theories; whether this Boson was indeed the Higgs, did it give mass, could it be broken down, did it have sibling particles and many other exotic questions. The people undergoing these discussions and debates could not have realised that the discovery would be at the centre of another, far more important debate, one that would decided the future of the peoples of the Earth, magical and non-magical...

Buy this story on Amazon or Smashwords.

Friday, October 5, 2012

"Wishful Finger" by Boris Guzo (Short Story)

Genre:  Suspense

Type of Short Story:  Short Story

Summary:  You could have known Jeremy Atkins for years, worked in the same office, even gone to parties with him. But would you really be able to know him, unless he let you see through?
And when Jeremy meets a mysterious hitchhiker on a cold night, it's his turn to ponder. Is it fate? Or something more fatal?


Jeremy Atkins was a perfectly normal guy. Well, normal except for his two little oddities.

Driving home from the pub on this Saturday night, feeling slightly giddy, he sang along with the old rock 'n' roll station on the radio. Unlike most Saturdays, he wasn't feeling particularly bad about being alone. It was almost as if he had anticipated that it was going to be an unusual night.

He wasn't a completely lonesome person, he did have a few friends. They were all colleagues from work, but that still counts. He worked an office job, eight hours a day, five days a week. Some days, they hung out after hours, at a nearby pub. Like once or twice a month.

A few years back, Jeremy had suspected that the night outs were actually much more frequent, and that he wasn't being invited in on all the occasions. Of course this was only a hunch, there were no concrete evidence to prove he was right. Besides, he was in a depressed mood back then, so he could have just as well been imagining things. Indeed he had gone bar hopping several nights in a row, stopping by every decent pub in town, trying to run into a group of his colleagues, catch them red handed—with no success.

Tonight he had been by himself at the pub. He didn't like to drink alone at home. It made him feel like an outcast, or a crackhead. So even when he had no company, he went downtown to get his fix. In the ideal scenario, he would meet new people and make new friends this way. But that never really happened.

He had drank four beers—that was his limit when he took the car. Not fully safe, but this was one of the very few risks he took in life. Some folks bungee jump, others go rock climbing. Jeremy liked to drink four pints and then drive the fifteen miles home from the town. You could call this a quirk, perhaps—but it's not one of the two peculiarities I mentioned about him.

Buy this story on Amazon.  Be sure to check out Boris' website!

Friday, September 28, 2012

"Skid Row 'Bots" by h lynn keith (Short Story)

Genre:  Science Fiction

Type of Short Story:  Short Story

Summary:  Eli Root lives on the streets in Memphis. Once a cybermechanic, he now scrounges for food in dumpsters. But late one night, he encounters someone who will change his life and the lives of others: a broken house-'bot called Isaac.


Half in and half out, Eli Root rummaged through the dumpster behind the Ugly Mug, searching for the bag of day-old bagels he expected to be there. The Mug always threw out the day-olds. Used to, when Kyle was working nights, Eli could knock on the back door and Kyle would give him whatever remained of the last quart of milk the shop provided for its customers to lighten their coffee with. But that ended when Kyle graduated college and moved away.

Eli was a little late tonight, making his rounds, and he hoped that someone else had not got here before him and robbed him of most of his day's calories. Probably not. Pickings were better toward the river, in and around downtown Memphis. Few came this far east, 'cause the cops made life harder for the homeless who wandered into the affluent neighborhoods. 'Course it could be one of those lean nights when the Mug had no leftovers to throw away.

A tug on his jeans startled him.

"Excuse me, sir, but if you should find a JUR1201 replacement unit there, would you be so kind as to hand it down to me?"

Eli lifted his head out of the dumpster. There in the circle of light, tugging on his pant leg, stood a 'bot, its right arm hanging limply from the shoulder socket. Elliso Model 27 house 'bot, Eli reckoned.

Eli blinked and said, "Sure. Anything else?"

"No, sir, thank you. That will be sufficient."

"Okay." Eli blinked again. "Uh, wanna let go my pants?"

"Oh, yes, sir. Excuse me, sir." The Elliso released Eli's pant leg. It did not blink. It couldn't.

Eli groped through the garbage without success. No JUR1201 replacement unit. No bagels, either. Bad night for man and 'bot.

Eli jumped down from the dumpster. "Sorry, little fella. No luck finding what you want."

Eli knew metal was incapable of displays of emotion, but it seemed that the 'bot's shoulders slumped as it said, "Thank you for your efforts, sir." The 'bot turned and started off. If metal could look dejected, it looked like this.

Buy this story on Amazon.  Also check out keith's website!

Friday, September 21, 2012

"The Silent Spaces" by R.G Rankine (Novelette)

Genre:  Psychological Drama

Type of Short Story:  Novelette

Summary:  Addison had wanted to get away from everything and everyone for a long time. He had planned his escape from the world and thought he would be happy. He was happy. For a while. But once he had made real his plan; once he had withdrawn from the world, he didn't understand why he could not settle. Why did his mind start thinking this way? Was he really alone? What was it he actually wanted? Addison found it was time to confront his dreams; did he really understand the choice he had made?


There was silence, for the first time he could ever recall, real silence. Addison was not sure how long he had been sitting in the silence or what time of day the silence had started; he had destroyed all of the clocks. After his first day in the new house the ticking and chiming felt like hands gripping tight around his neck, every pulse of time was the pulse of his blood screaming for release. So he simply destroyed them and thought no more about time. He felt better for it, a calming of his nerves, he could breath without worrying about his neck being squeezed and soon enough only darkness and sunlight remained of time. Addison stopped by the front room window to take in the silence; standing there he smiled at his success. This was his prize, the reward he had worked so hard for. Addison had always wanted silence but felt it was impossible, he believed there was no town, city or populated square mile in this world that could give him silence. But he had found one place. Standing there he congratulated himself, silently, so as not to disturb the peace. But then he felt like saying aloud, “Well done Addison. Congratulations Addison.” It was okay if he made a noise he thought, this was why he had come here, to be himself, if he made a noise that no one else could hear then he was not upsetting the peace just making his own type of peace. The words hung in the air for a period of time then disappeared, and he felt perhaps that was enough for now and spoke no more. The smile stayed however. Addison enjoyed this smile, maybe his first honest smile as an adult; of course he knew he must have smiled as a child, but he just couldn’t remember, this smile meant something, his body reacted to the smile and his hands and feet and back joined in the smile and his lungs and stomach and heart joined in the smile and he felt wonderful.

Addison slowly strolled around his new front room, hovering one bare foot over the floor for a few seconds before sweeping it down and feeling the pleasure of the soft brush of his new carpet against his skin; then momentarily hovering the other bare foot and sweeping it across. He wasn’t thinking of time, he wasn’t allowing any thoughts of how long he was taking enter his mind, he just carried on strolling around the room enjoying the feeling of aloneness, and when eventually he tired of raising and lowering his legs, which may have been minutes, may have been hours, he stopped still and surveyed the room one more time. He had yet to decorate or to arrange the scant furniture to his liking, but why hurry he thought; he had no deadlines, no alarm clock that would strike his body like the onset of a heart attack gripping every nerve and muscle like a merciless vice. He could move his things around when the moment came, that moment could be now or it could be then, he didn’t care and he didn’t allow the thought of caring to enter his mind.

As he stood still, drifting his gaze across the blank walls, he thought about how when the next morning came he would have to go outside for the first time since moving in. The thought didn’t worry him, it was just part of the process, he had set things up a long time before he moved here and was confident his arrangements would work. Addison was actually looking forward to it. As arranged with a company that he had already forgotten the details of, a large parcel of food and general supplies would be delivered to a secure spot on his new land; far enough away so that the van would not be heard, even in the most silent of silent nights, but near enough that he could walk there easily without risking encountering anyone. The parcel would contain enough bottles of water, tins of fruit and healthy foods for what he considered a long enough period of time and he would then walk out and get the next one when needed. Addison hadn’t marked out the dates the deliveries would arrive as he had destroyed his calendar and his diary many mornings ago. He would simply go when the current provisions had gone, by which time the next parcel would be there; his one concern would be that he would start to walk to the parcel while the van was still there, he would be forced to listen to the sounds of tyres screeching and the rattling exhaust coughing up like a sea of old sick men. He would be forced back into a world of noise and chaos and he dreaded having to endure the drone of the engine as it disappeared from view. Addison was quite convinced this wouldn’t happen, he had purposefully and expensively arranged for the deliveries to happen at a time in the darkness, a time that he would never have any reason to go out in; there would never be a reason to hear the sound of machinery again.

Addison thought about his first walk outside and brightened. He danced around at the thought of a silent walk in the outdoors. He dipped his head, closed his eyes and scoured his memory for any time in his life when he had been outdoors in silence and came up with nothing. He thought of his old park, the walk along the motorway where the birds would sing alongside the constant hidden roar of car engines, and the eventual seclusion of his favourite spot under the horse chestnut tree. It was beautiful; trees and grass as far as he could see and even though he knew there were buildings just out of view, he could get them out of his mind because he couldn’t see them. The noise never left though. Addison raised his head again as the sound of the gentle thunder of a thousand far away cars flooded back to him. He quickly opened his eyes and involuntarily breathed out, “No.” Addison was talking to himself giving himself the answer to his question, no; he had never been outside in silence. Shutting out the noise of the imaginary traffic he forced himself to resume the expectation of a silent stroll in his new land. He felt his excitement return and the grin that had hardly left him in his new home strengthened. Addison realised that there was no reason he couldn’t just walk outside now and experience what he so desired, but controlled, he silently answered himself that because there was no reason, that was reason for him not to go, and he had had enough of feeling compelled to do things because they were there to be done; so he stopped and told himself to behave in the free manner he wanted, and that meant waiting. With a jolt of his shoulder he turned one hundred and eighty degrees and resumed the long sweeping motions of his legs and carried on swishing around his room and told himself to do so until he felt like stopping.

“Cars fly past me constantly, their lights scorching the back of my eyes, there is no let up, the noise fills my ears, beeping, engines turning too fast, I have to stop my eyes releasing tears I don’t know the reason for, anger swelling in my veins, I feel impotent to stop the torrent, it never lets up.”

Addison broke away from his swishing around and felt like walking through the rooms of the house. He had yet to furnish them all but he enjoyed the feeling of freedom that gave him, he was in no rush to get the rooms ready and he was not expecting anyone. He liked imagining how he would make each room look, the colours, the textures and most importantly, the feel. Addison wanted every room to feel his, to feel home. Addison smiled and said aloud, “Home.” Stepping into the long wide hall Addison saw the identical doors of his many rooms spread down its length, his intended kitchen, his intended office, the first of his intended bathrooms, his intended dining room and the second of his intended bathrooms. Then the hall turns sharp right, around that corner one more identical door leading to his intended games room lay in wait for him before the hall finishes at the entrance to his home. Addison didn’t think about the basement and he didn’t think about the first floor either. He didn’t want to rush into seeing everything, running the risk of becoming over familiar before being familiar. It was big and it was grand but it wasn’t lived in and he was savouring the feeling of freshness. Addison lifted his arms and drew a deep breath grinning all the while as for the thousandth time he felt the openness and space of his home. Addison stopped and pondered at his relaxation, he felt no cramps in his shoulders, no gripping tension pulling his head into his chest; there was no claustrophobic apprehension in him.

“I passed the salt as was politely requested and the movement of my arm was followed all its way by a large smile, the smile stretching wider when our fingers touched as her hand took the salt from me, ‘Thank you darling.’ The room was filled with the clinks of twisting, cutting and slicing knives and forks, the whole family happily enjoying their meal. Every now and again my cheeks would flush red as my eyes met my wife’s and a wordless connection would linger between us. Everything on the table is in its place, we are in a perfect vacuum and nothing exists outside of our table. Slowly the food turns grey and I smell nothing, the table melts and my family separate into tiny bubbles and float away in all directions.”

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Friday, September 14, 2012

"The Reclaimed" by Phil Stern (Novelette)

Genre:  Science Fiction

Type of Short Story:  Novelette

Summary:  What happens when a family man comes back from the dead to find his mistress married to someone else? 

Death is never final in Greenville, a frontier community on a faraway planet. Every year the townspeople vote on who will be Reclaimed, granting them a new life following an untimely, fatal accident. Often the elections are divisive, pitting neighbor against neighbor, or even family members against one another.

But when Ned Polanski comes back from the dead to a gloating wife and tense rejection from his young love, the brutal emotional aftershocks threaten the town's very survival.


There were many who still wondered how Ned Polanski had been elected a week before. Having already lost his bid to be Reclaimed twice, many saw Ned as a perennial loser. Two years ago he'd lost out to a strapping, popular farm youth kicked in the head by an ornery mule just a few weeks before the ballots were cast. And last year, Greenville had chosen to Reclaim the daughter of Lance Guspie, the prestigious town banker, who had perished giving birth to a healthy son. The young woman had a strong case to begin with, but many were also influenced by the idea of old Mr. Guspie taking out his revenge on the accounts of those who voted against him. Ostensibly the voting results were secret, but you never knew.

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Friday, September 7, 2012

"The Whispering Tombs (Quality Times #1)" by Gayle Ramage (Novella)

Genre:  Adventure, Science Fiction

Type of Short Story:  Novella

Summary:  Meet Quality Times, just your average 21st century woman who happens to own a shrinkable time machine. Along on her intergalactic adventures is Tim, a self-confessed sci-fi geek who takes everything in his stride.

In 'The Whispering Tombs', Quality and Tim are residing at the luxurious Baala Haven Resort, on an unpronounceable planet, when they're invited on a quest to find ancient hidden treasure by a wealthy alien archaeologist. Reaching the caves of Azrokaran, however, loyalties are tested to the very limits as those within the group reveal their true colours.

A light-hearted mix of science fiction, adventure and humour.


I dropped the pen onto the desk and stared at the words on the page until they blurred before me. God, how pointless. How in the world did I manage to get coaxed into writing a bloody journal by a teenage boy?

Describe your experiences. Tell humanity of the worlds you’ve been to and the different species you’ve encountered, he’d said. Then we can hop back to the 16th century and leave the book somewhere. It’ll really freak out the archaeologists! The poor sap had even paid for a customised t-shirt bearing the legend: AN ARCHAEOLOGIST FREAK-OUT. Yes, he was that sad.

Tim, he of the customised t-shirt, had gone out for the evening, sampling the night life on this planet. It was our first night at the Baala Haven Resort, Baala being the region of this unpronounceable world. I should have really been out, too, living it up and shaking it down but, to be honest, I’d rather have popped into my incredibly comfy-looking bed and have inappropriate dreams about the blue Adonis who’d caught my eye when Tim and I had arrived.

Tim had asked me if I wanted to join him, but more out of courtesy than anything else. As I had been eyeing up Bluey, Tim had his eyes firmly on a pair of Barbie dolls standing in the queue behind us. I’m not being rude when I refer to them as Barbies. They did genuinely resemble the toys so beloved of young girls, even down to the plastic-looking skin. No, Tim didn’t want me cramping his style, though if I wasn’t so tired, I probably would have made damn sure I did.

I slipped underneath the soft blankets, ready for a good night’s sleep, then remembered the SD pills. SD stands for Sweet Dreams and does what it says on the tin. What you do is spend ten minutes or so focussing on whatever it is you want to dream about before chucking the little orange things down your throat. I’m not sure how they work exactly. Something to do with the stuff in the pills contacting your brain and catching your thoughts pre-sleep. I didn’t know if it would work, but I was more than willing to give it a try.

I had reached the point in the dream where Bluey peeled off his skin-tight underpants when I was rudely awakened by Tim hissing my name. Believe me, if you opened your eyes to find a spotty youth inches from your face, you’d scream, too.

‘Shut up, will you.’ He stepped back to avoid a thump. ‘It’s only me.’

‘Exactly,’ I muttered. ’Now fully awake, I sat up and glanced out the window looking onto the silver-sanded beach. It was still dark. ‘Is that... burning I can smell?’ I asked, sniffing the air.

Tim nodded, his cheeks turning a similar colour to his hair.

‘What happened?’

‘It wasn’t my fault,’ he began, after a moment’s pause. ’I mean, she looked plastic. I didn’t realise she actually was plastic.’

‘At the risk of sounding repetitive, what happened?’

‘Well, you know those two females we saw in the lobby earlier?’

‘You mean the ones I saw and you drooled over? Yes, I remember them.’

He gave me an unimpressed look before continuing. ‘Well, after partying for a bit, we went back to their apartment and-’

I raised a hand. ‘Spare me the graphic details, Timothy.’

‘Huh, we didn’t even get to that! We flirted for a bit, then the girls decided to get more drinks from the kitchen. I felt a bit cold, but there wasn’t a fireplace like we’ve got, so I found a bundle of candles hiding away in a drawer. Thought it might be a bit sexy, y’know. Romantic.’

Plastic girls. Burning candles. I could see the punch line coming, but let him continue.

He started to twist the hem of his red chequered shirt. ‘They came back through and, well, started going mental, screeching like mad harridans! Screamed at me to put out the flames. I did, and planned to get the hell out of their as soon as I could. Except one of the girls tripped over their feet and went flying.’

‘And she came into contact with a flame and started to melt,’ I finished.

‘Something like that. She’s all right, though. Still alive. It was strange, though. When the flame touched her, her whole arm was set alight.’

‘Hang on. Wait a minute. Does this little mishap mean we’ve been kicked out of the resort?’

He frowned. ‘No. I got a bit freaked out, that’s all.’

I stared at him. He’d woken me up, taken me away from untold pleasurable dreams about Bluey, because he was “a bit freaked out”?

‘They called the reception desk. Someone came to take her to the medical unit. Her sister went with her so I came here.’ He sighed, and sat down on the edge of the bed. ‘I need a drink.’

‘You need a shower,’ I shot back. ‘Sod off back to your own room and I’ll see you in the morning.’

He gave me a vacant look. ‘It is morning. Or what constitutes morning in this place.’

‘But... it’s dark outside,’ I said redundantly.

‘The people on this planet don’t sleep for long. Only a couple of hours in Earth time. The resort lets the residents sleep for as long as they want ’cos, well, they’re paying guests, but a lot of the natives are already up and about.’

‘Aren’t you the expert all of a sudden,’ I said. ’Well, as long as nobody comes in to change the bedding, I’m travelling back to the land of nod.’ I lay down and threw the covers back over me.


With a heavy sigh, my head emerged from the blankets. ‘What now?’

‘I bumped into someone on the way here, got talking and, well, we’re invited to breakfast with him.’

I was tired, but also hungry. In the end, I swore and got out of bed. Tim obviously gauged my mood correctly. He departed pretty quickly, informing me he’d go back to his own room for a quick wash before returning for me in half an hour. I waved a “whatever” hand, then disappeared into the bathroom.

Twenty-nine minutes later, refreshed, awake and smelling faintly of jasmine and cotton milk shower gel, I left my room. Tim stood outside, wearing black jeans and another of his slogan t-shirts. This beauty declared: “My other ship is a TARDIS”, which was rather lost on a universe that didn’t enjoy British science fiction shows. In fact, in the first few weeks of our intergalactic travels, Tim had gone around claiming he was a Timelord from Planet Gallifrey, called The Hacker. It didn’t last long. No one had a clue what a Timelord was, nor which system Gallifrey was part of. Soon afterwards, Tim had been forced to admit he was just a regular human being from 21st century Earth. The idiot.

He was regarding a row of paintings depicting some of the resort’s important, rich clients. They looked like rejects from Doctor Who and, when you think about the state of some of the monsters that were used in the show, well, you can only imagine the ones affronting our eyes at that moment.

My room sat on the ground floor, so we took a walk along to the dining area, already populated with various-coloured, limbed, and sized beings eating and chatting with one another. I scanned the surroundings for my blue crush, but instead my eyes rested on a hirsute creaturing putting a porridge-like substance into a place no porridge-like substance has any place being in. I looked away so fast I almost knocked over one of the marble-skinned waiters carrying a tray of brightly-coloured drinks. I gave him a sheepish smile and trailed after Tim.

He’d stopped at a table currently occupied by an incredibly thin, grey-skinned humanoid in what appeared to be an early 20th century safari outfit, khaki-coloured clothing covering his pallid tone. I observed with uneasy fascination as the food he ate slid visibly down his throat, he was so thin. I gulped self-consciously and vowed to order a big breakfast.

‘Tim!’ The breakfaster greeted as we sat down across from him. His bead-like black eyes landed on me. His nostrils emitted wisps of blue smoke, and the slit beneath stretched into a grin. He introduced himself as Bob, a rather rich being from Planet Gastron, somewhere neither Tim nor I had had the pleasure – or misfortune – of visiting yet.

‘Bob? That’s a bit of an Earthy sort of name,’ I said.

‘Oh it is. Many years ago, it became fashionable for visitors to Earth to give their offspring common human names. My parents, particular fans of the British Isles, thus named me Bob. I quite like it. Sounds exotic.’ He shifted in his seat and looked at me. ‘Now, Tim. Are you going to introduce me to your charming friend?’

Tim looked up from the menu booklet in his hands. ‘Oh yeah. This is Quality Times.’

‘I bet they are,’ said Bob, in a suggestive manner.

I groaned inwardly.

‘She’s my... mum.’

‘What?’ I exploded. ‘When exactly did I have you? When I was fifteen?’

Tim shrugged. ‘It happens.’

‘Not to me it bloody well doesn’t.’ I looked at Bob. ‘He’s my adopted brother,’ I lied. ‘His own family didn’t want him. I really can’t understand why.’ I added, giving Tim a smug look.

I received a one-fingered salute in return.

A waiter approached our table, wearing the typical service uniform of a white shirt, black waistcoat and trousers – yes, the uniform was universal. We both ordered a large English fry-up and cups of strong tea. The waiter made a note and scooted away again. The resort, we’d quickly found out, catered to every species in existence, even humans. You could even get pot noodles, here.

‘So, Bob,’ began Tim, leaning back in his chair. ‘What brings you to Baala? A bit of a break from the daily grind?’

‘Something like that. My assistant and I are here for work and pleasure.’

Oh god, I thought, he’s probably having a grubby little affair with some buxom bimbo.

‘And what brings you two here?’ Bob asked in return, finishing off his food.

‘Pleasure,’ Tim explained. ‘We heard about this place, so thought we’d come and check it out. It’s not half bad,’ he said, looking around.

A different waiter from the one before arrived at our table. ‘Are you Tim, the human?’ he asked with a heavy sigh.

‘Yeah. Who wants to know?’ Tim replied, his eyebrows dipped in a frown.

‘One of our guests asked me to give you this.’


The waiter raised a hand and slapped Tim hard across the face. Those sitting nearby paused to behold the aftermath. Tim sat there in stunned silence, cradling his blotchy cheek in his hand. I felt sorry for him. Almost.

‘What was that for?’ he asked, his bottom lip trembling.

‘The lady made the request,’ explained the waiter, pointing to the far side of the room where the two Barbies stood by the entrance doors. One of them supported a bandaged arm. Directing a smug look towards us, they turned heel and left.

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